Sai Baba Magick and Puttaparthi Mountains
31st of March, 2008 - 12:33
A few days back, as our route took us to Bangalore, we also spent a few days in Puttaparthi, the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, the famous Hindu teacher, considered by his followers to be an avatar.
Taoist-Maoist Indiana Jones
31st of March, 2008 - 12:29
The gurubhai seers of Radhakund have now realized that I have become a Tantric and a Buddhist Sannyasi, and concluded that my fame deserves to be spread...
Theravada 4 Eva
27th of March, 2008 - 13:41
To adopt a new conceptual framework, to revise the old, or neither, or both? Thoughts in principle on evolutions, revolutions and renunciations, on current emphases and future possibilities.
Shankara, Bhagavata-purana and Advaita-vedanta
25th of March, 2008 - 4:08
The first installment in exploring earlier themes of Vedas, Advaita, Buddha, Brahmanas and so forth in some further detail.
Anger Danger
24th of March, 2008 - 16:14
With my recent writings on the evolution of my views on Hinduism, featuring a departure that to many is irreconcilable and to some also unforgivable, expressions of anger have again become a theme of some contemplation to me.
Question to Readers
23rd of March, 2008 - 5:30
I don't really have a very clear picture of the demographics of the current Vraja Journal readership. Here's a question to the readers.
Gods Forsaken, Paradise Lost
22nd of March, 2008 - 19:44
Being a Buddhist means I no longer believe in god. Right? Well, let's be a bit more nuanced here.
Buddha, Vedas and the Brahmana culture
21st of March, 2008 - 13:30
Buddhism earned the nastika (atheist or infidel) label owing to the Buddha's rejection of Vedas. However, rejecting the Vedas isn't as black and white an issue as one might assume. This is a look at the Vedas the Buddha knew of.
From the Sahajiya Watcher
20th of March, 2008 - 13:03
A gem from recent feedback from Harry Krishna, a self-appointed sahajiya watcher.
Exclusive Devotion
18th of March, 2008 - 10:45
I wish to write a few words on the "exclusive devotion" theme of an earlier entry to clarify my views on bhakti.
Exit Madhava
16th of March, 2008 - 10:41
Yesterday, Advaitadas commented on my exit in his blog. These are some reflections on his message.
Style Revision
16th of March, 2008 - 5:52
Following the change of spirit, the form of the journal has undergone a due transfiguration.
Vraja Journal - Disclaimer
15th of March, 2008 - 15:57
What's the future of Vraja Journal? It'll continue, albeit in a somewhat different spirit. Please read this disclaimer before reading any further.
Dharma Reloaded
14th of March, 2008 - 18:37
Many readers of this journal have been wondering about the evolutions in my slant on things and my spiritual direction in general. Time has come to address matters in definite terms.
Vilasa Kunja Status
12th of March, 2008 - 16:13
I'm aware Vilasa Kunja and the rest of the sites (except for Vraja Journal) are down. Here's the latest on that.
Asubha: Meeting Corpses and Death
9th of March, 2008 - 16:51
Walking around the ghats of Varanasi, death is a common sight. The large piles of firewood tell their story of the volume of corpses daily burnt.
Our Shared Journey
4th of March, 2008 - 15:03
There was an earlier blog on misleading, commenting on the feedback of someone who came forward in a rather pointed manner about it. This is something, slightly retouched, I wrote to a friend who asked whether I truly felt I had misled someone.
Delhi to Varanasi
1st of March, 2008 - 13:25
Reaching New Delhi, booking train tickets, killing a few extra hours, observing the ominous Buddha-presence, moving towards Varanasi...

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Shankara, Bhagavata-purana and Advaita-vedanta
Posted: 25th of March, 2008 - 4:08
Lest some consider that some of the conclusions in the Buddha, Vedas and the Brahmana culture blog were undue, let me shed a bit light on the background of the issue. The entry touched briefly on six themes of substantial interest:

1. Dating of the Vedas and Vedic literature.
2. Reasons for Shankara's not commenting on the Bhagavata.
3. The anachronistic prediction of the Buddha.
4. The subsequent scriptural downplaying of the Veda.
5. The corruption of the brahmana race.
6. Influence from Buddhism and Jainism.

Let's take a look at the above one by one — but still with a great deal of brevity, as I don't exactly have the spare time to indulge in writing doctoral dissertation level expositions just now. This entry will address the first two of the six points on the list, the second one at some length owing to related themes that merit exploring.

Dating of the Vedas and Vedic literature

The estimates I presented for a timeline shouldn't be too unconventional in the world of contemporary scholarship. The issue of dating the diverse works of the Hindu canon is essentially a matter of scholarship versus pious belief. For people who wish to explore this further, I'm certain they'll find many good insights for example by starting a thread at the Caitanya Symposium discussion forum led by Neal Delmonico (Nitai Das), a man of great academic skill and valor, and a follower of Caitanya Vaisnavism as well.

Shankara, Bhagavata and Advaita-vedanta

This was mentioned in passing. Adi Shankara, the grand daddy of Advaita Vedanta, lived between 788-820 CE. His philosophy has been a source of much discomfort for the personalist Vaishnava traditions that followed. Even Sri Chaitanya, who was himself a sannyasi of the Shankara order (though you couldn't strictly call him a dasanami-sannyasi as he never took the title), is reputed to have said that study of Shankara's commentary on the Brahma-sutras would lead to wholesale destruction (CC 2.6.169) — even if many suspect that a great deal of content has been unduly attributed to him (S.K. De et al, don't have the reference at hand) by the biographer.

The classical Advaita doctrine considers Isvara, or the personal god, to be the best you can glimpse of the Monistic Absolute when looking from behind the veil of maya. (Read more.) While I personally find the model quite insightful and stimulating, those campaigning for the ultimate supremacy of a personal deity are a bit sour over it. This has led to the insertion of a passage into the Padma-purana — this ever-fluid and voluminous work that supposedly nowadays even contains a verse or two from Rupa Goswami's writings — declaring, māyāvādam asac chāstraṁ pracchannaṁ bauddham ucyate: "Mayavada is untrue to the scripture, said to be a covered form of Buddhism." In the verses that follow, Shiva tells Devi of his intentions to incarnate as a brahmana in the age of Kali to teach the doctrine of maya with an aim to delude the populace. Some later commentators add that Shankara presented a transitional philosophy with an aim to build a bridge between Buddhism and Vedas.

Now, Shankara and his followers were among the most outstanding and broadly read scholars of their times. The absence of apologetic writings in itself is quite telling of the supposed antiquity of such passages. The earliest reference I know of is from the 15th century, from Jiva Goswami's Paramatma-sandarbha. (His prelude to the passage introduces mayavada as Pasanda-sastras, or atheistic literature). While people sometimes display stupendous skills for devising different potential rationales as to why things aren't as fishy as they seem, quite often they are in fact just as fishy as they seem.

The idea of Shankara's respecting the Bhagavata by abstaining from commentary is also a concept introduced by Jiva Goswami in his Tattva-sandarbha (23). The more obvious answer to his abstaining from commenting on the title is in its being a work unknown at his time, either unwritten or unpopularized. Contemporary scholarship dates the work to 9th-10th century.

While Advaita-vedanta and Bhagavata are on the table, it isn't out of place to note the strong Advaitic leanings of the text. Sridhar Svami's commentary, the first commentary on the Bhagavata and much praised by Sri Chaitanya, was later downplayed by Jiva as being only partially acceptable. In his view (Tattva-sandarbha 27), some portions do not conform to strict Vaisnava philosophy and have been inserted only to attract those with Advaita-leanings to the greatness of the Lord.

To contrast this, Chaitanya is told (CC 3.7.112ff) to have expressed his displeasure over Vallabha's statement of his finding some of Sridhara's statements unacceptable. Vallabha's exact objection is in Sridhara's philosophical inconsistency — sei vyākhyā karena yāhāṅ yei paḍe āni': "Howsoever he reads in any given place, accordingly he comments." In Chaitanya's cutting yet light remark, "I count among prostitutes the one who doesn't accept the Svami." (The word svami also means "husband".)

The critique attributed to Vallabha is, however, quite telling of the crux of the problem. The Bhagavata is indeed chock-full of Advaitic ideology, and just reading and commenting on the verses without a slanted overall premise will inevitably lead to a commentary with a strong Advaita admixture. This may not be obvious to readers who have been exposed only to the BBT version of the text, but is quite evident in the original and in other translations such as the Gita Press version. When you translate j?āna-mātraṁ paraṁ brahma (BhP. 3.33.26) as "the Supreme Personality of Godhead alone is complete transcendental knowledge", and taṁ brahma-nirvāṇa-samādhim āśritaṁ (BhP. 4.6.39) as "He was absorbed in trance", dṛḍhā ratir brahmaṇi nirguṇe (BhP. 4.22.21) as "steadfast attachment for the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental, beyond the modes of material nature", the flavor of the text changes considerably.

The fact that hard-core Advaitins such as Ramana Maharshi have extolled the Bhagavata-purana as one of the works people ought to be studying is quite telling of the actual contents and spirit of the work. The work itself describes its themes (12.13.12) in its concluding chapter:

sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ yad brahmātmaikatva-lakṣaṇam |
vastv advitīyaṁ tan-niṣṭhaṁ kaivalyaika-prayojanam ||

"It is the essence of all Vedanta, characterized by the unity of brahman and atman, is fixed in the nondual substance, and has kaivalya as its sole objective."

Reading the above should have every straight Vaishnava running away at a high velocity. Not so for Jiva, however, who in his Priti-sandarbha exegesis features kaivalya as kevalaḥ śuddhaḥ tasya bhāvaḥ kaivalyam, "unmixed and pure emotion for Him is kaivalya". Truth be told, I have often been decidedly uncomfortable with his exegeses that seem to be, despite the ingeniousness, often quite wishful and not meriting the conviction they seem to be carrying. Matters of wishful exegesis are no doubt one among the factors that had me grow weary of Gaudiya orthodoxy.

I should add that I personally enjoy reading the Bhagavata a great deal. All those sages, wandering north towards the end of their life, sitting in meditation, letting the internal elements merge with the external elements, forsaking the non-self and fusing into the non-dual reality, are just so cool and awesome it makes me scream. You should have been a fly on the ceiling when I revisited the text last December, spent long hours and days reading the narrations and philosophy with rapt attention.

The rest of the six themes will be covered in future installments. 'twas quite plentiful for a day.
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